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Rays Season Preview: The Opening Day roster is almost complete

The starters are set, but the supporting cast is to be determined.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Speedy outfielder Mallex Smith is recovering from a hamstring injury
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The rebuilding Rays are coming into focus.

Gone are several of the names we know, and gone will be many more of these names by the time the rebuild is complete, but for now the Rays roster will be full of veterans and role players fighting for their place on a roster destined for turnover.

With two weeks remaining in major league camp, the Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day roster for 2018 looks pretty straight forward:

C — Wilson Ramos
1B — C.J. Cron
2B — Joey Wendle
3B — Matt Duffy
SS — Adeiny Hechavarria
LF — Denard Span
CF — Kevin Kiermaier
RF — Carlos Gomez
DH — Brad Miller

The right side of the infield was a question for most of camp, but the Rays gambit of Joey Wendle looks to be the winner at second base. The more veteran Daniel Robertson, now a utility infielder accustomed to second base, should get the nod on Opening Day, but the long side of a platoon is Joey Wendle’s to lose, now and in the long run, as the Rays have several infield prospects joining the team later this year.

Tampa Bay continues to believe in Brad Miller, given his presence in camp. He’s been slowed by a return from core surgery, a broken toe, and an injury during his recovery. The Rays still think he’s a 30-HR dude, so here he is, pushing Denard Span into left field. If healthy, the 2016-version of Brad Miller is the best hitter on the Rays.

As for the left side of the roster, the Rays decided long before camp began that Matt Duffy would acquiesce to Adeiny Hechavarria’s elite footwork and throws at short, and be the first new individual to man third base on Opening Day in nearly a decade.

That’s the known roster; the bench is a bit more unknown.

C2 - Jesus Sucre
BN - Daniel Robertson, 2B/UT
BN - Mallex Smith, OF or Micah Johnson, 2B/UT
BN - Mystery right-handed hitting outfielder

One of the x-factors for the Rays bench will be Mallex Smith, who the Rays say is likely to get starts in left field when Denard Span DH’s.

Of course, if Denard Span is the DH, that means Brad Miller is on the bench. I suppose the Rays are more likely to prioritize outfield defense to designated hitting offense, but if the real focus of 2018 is on the kids, it makes sense to let Mallex get the full experience in left field to see if he’s a starter.

Mallex Smith is recovering from a hamstring strain, and if he’s not ready for Opening Day, his spot on the roster will likely go to renaissance man and masthead favorite Micah Johnson.

I’d like to see Micah make the roster either way as a positive clubhouse presence, but more likely the 25th man will be a right-handed bat, which Micah and Mallex are not. The in-house candidates are OF Jason Coats (a waiver claim recovering from Tommy John) and 1B/OF Brandon Snyder (who played indie ball in 2016, and with the Nationals Triple-A affiliate in 2017). Projections don’t love either, on offense they favor Coats slightly, on defense perhaps Snyder, but they’re marginal differences.

I say mystery, though, because an outside acquisition feels just as likely for the 2018 season. Marc Topkin has floated the return of Peter Bourjos, who covered center field for the Rays adequately last season during Kiermaier’s hip injury and is in camp with the Cubs, but a player outside the org on waivers (like Trayce Thompson or Destin Hood) seems just as likely.

If no answer is satisfying, the Rays could also role with a nine-man bullpen and a three-man bench, as other teams like Baltimore and Texas appear prepared to do in the early run.

The starting rotation was announced yesterday, and Mister Lizzie was in Port Charlotte to cover the story. You can read her report here, the rotation is as follows:

SP1 - Chris Archer
SP2 - Blake Snell
SP3 - bullpen day
SP4 - Nathan Eovaldi
SP5 - Jake Faria

The Rays have several off-days in the early run and will need a fifth starter only a handful of times in the first six week, so an extended trial will begin for a pitcher to take the reins and prove himself in long relief.

If no one emerges, the bullpen day experiment could last all season. In the mean time, here are the 19 names remaining in camp competing for a role.

Remaining Relief Pitchers (19): Jose Alvarado, Matt Andriese, Anthony Banda, Kyle Bird*, Alex Colome, Yonny Chirinos, Ian Gibaut*, Cody Hall*, Daniel Hudson, Dan Jennings, Andrew Kittredge, Adam Kolarek*, Colton Murray*, Austin Pruitt, Chaz Roe, Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek, Jonny Venters*, Ryan Yarbrough.

* non-roster player, would have to be added to 40-man roster

We will have more on the competition shortly, but expect a few locks:

CL - Alex Colome
SU - Daniel Hudson
SU - Sergio Romo
SU - Chaz Roe

Hudson and Romo are on major league deals, and Colome and Roe are out of options. Curiously, so is Dan Jennings, but recent reporting from Marc Topkin makes his role appear less secure. A removal of Jennings provides an extra roster spot for another long relief man and would save the Rays a couple million.

The front runners for the likely four remaining slots are the pitchers with major league experience: Matt Andriese, Austin Pruitt, Ryne Stanek, Andrew Kittredge, and Jose Alvarado. Dark horses for opening day are would-be Triple-A starters Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, and Anthony Banda, who will surely feature on the Durham shuttle either way. As of publishing, no non-roster relief arms have made significant waves in the Ray tank.

Who do you want to see make the Rays roster?